I would like to begin by wishing you a hopeful New Year. It’s clear that this year has already brought significant challenges for us all – probably the greatest that we have seen during the pandemic – but I hope that the opportunity of a worldwide vaccination programme will be the light at the end of the tunnel that we all desperately need to see.
I’m writing to you in the midst of a huge surge in cases in many parts of the globe. In the UK, USA and parts of Europe we’ve recently seen record numbers of new cases, and truly unprecedented pressure on our health services. We are being asked to step up to the plate again at this time of great need I know that each and every one of us will do this to the best of our ability while the vaccination programme is rolled out.
We are in a race to vaccinate as many of the priority groups as possible, as quickly as possible.
Subsequently the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) in the UK has revised the scheduling of the vaccinations, delaying the second vaccination for up to 12 weeks, aiming to provide more people with the protection of a first dose of available vaccine as soon as possible. I understand how disappointed and let down some colleagues are feeling, but this will have a very rapid impact and as a public health strategy I am convinced it is the right thing to do.
Communication explaining the change in approach has been slow to appear, this is why Scottish Academy produced a statement here on 4 January and Academy of Medical Royal Colleges has issued reassurance on 11 January. I also welcome the statement published by the British Society for Immunology last week which notes that “although we would prefer the original dosing schedules tested in the trials to be used clinically, we recognise that a pragmatic approach in the short-term is needed, and accept the rationale for the change in dosing schedule for the Oxford/AstraZeneca and for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine that has been recommended”. There are also some very helpful FAQs here.
There is a very useful paper from the COVID-19 Actuaries response group which highlights that we only have to vaccinate 20 care home residents to save one life. By vaccinating JCVI Priority groups 1 and 2, two thirds of COVID-19 deaths could be prevented. All the more reason for vaccination programmes to work at pace.
Learning of the death of a colleague from COVID-19 always brings the grim reality of the pandemic into focus. I was very sad to hear that the Registrar of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) of London, Professor Donal O’Donoghue, died from COVID-19 in December.
Donal was an exceptional medical leader, and contributed so much to healthcare by leading the reorganisation of renal services in Manchester and as President of the Renal Association. His contribution to RCP London was enormous and I personally was always most appreciative of his clarity of thought, his motivation always to improve training and patient care and his kindness. He epitomised that about which he was most passionate and was the consummate professional. I know that Donal will be greatly missed by all of his colleagues, and of course our thoughts are very much with his family, whose loss is inconceivable.
On a positive note, I’m pleased that once again so many of our Members and Fellows have recently received public recognition for their work in the Queen’s New Year Honours List. Dr Raghu Rama Pillarisetti, a Fellow of the College who is also Director of the KIMS-USHALAKSHMI Centre for Breast Diseases and Founder/CEO of the Ushalakshmi Breast Cancer Foundation has been awarded an Order of the British Empire while, Ian Finlay, a previous Honorary Treasurer and a huge supporter of the College who now works with the Scottish Government as lead for appraisal and revalidation has been awarded a CBE. Another of our Members, Dr Beverly Bergman, was awarded an OBE for her services to veterans in Scotland. I’d like to congratulate all of our College family who have received a welcome recognition of their contribution to medicine and our patients in this way.
Finally, I’d like to finish this missive as I started, on a hopeful note. It’s vital that we look beyond the current darks days of the crisis, and prepare to build for the future. I’m looking forward to hosting the first of our webinars in 2021 on 19 January. This free online event will bring together a panel of internationally renowned speakers who will discuss the future of surgery. Please sign up now to join us for this very exciting journey.
Thank you again for all your extremely hard work and professionalism. Every day I hear more about the outstanding work of our Fellows and Members in the most trying of circumstances, and my admiration for you increases in turn. It is a privilege to work on your behalf.
Better days will come.
Professor Jackie Taylor